Category Archives: concealed carry

Shaken, Not Stirred

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2010

Walther PPK

The Walther PPK/S performs as good as it looks on the range and in personal-defense scenarios. The author chose to replace the factory front sight with one from XS Sight Systems, making the gun an excellent carry option—despite being larger than newer .380 ACPs.

Shaken, not stirred…

Sometimes it takes a little public relations boost for a product to achieve the recognition it deserves.

Case in point: the Walther PPK. Recog­nized by knowledgeable handgunners as a jewel of German engineering, it was a fictional English spy who made the little semi-automatic almost a household word. The compact pistol was a perfect choice for James Bond to carry beneath the impeccably tailored tuxedos and expen­sive suits he wore almost nightly in the great casinos of Europe.

While I’ve never owned an Aston Martin, I did recently acquire a Walther PPK/S during my search for the “shaken, not stirred” way of life. As it turns out, the PPK/S is a nifty concealed-carry gun.

My Walther is a stainless steel model distributed by Smith & Wesson. It’s a simple blowback action, like most semi-autos chambered for .380 ACP. Barrel length is 3 1/4 inches, about .6-inch shorter than the original PP barrel. The PPK/S is larger and heavier than more modern .380s with polymer frames and even shorter barrels—something you will appreciate when firing the gun.

A true single-action/double-action pistol, the little Walther can be fired when the hammer is cocked and the trigger is in the rearward position (single action), or when the hammer is down and the trigger is in the forward position (double action). As you would expect, its trigger pull is much lighter in single-action mode, which translates to better accuracy. Unlike many double-action semi-autos, the PPK/S is compact enough for shooters with medium-sized hands to get enough finger on the trigger to effect a controlled double-action pull.

The safety lever is mounted on the slide rather than the frame, and it is quite interesting. If engaged while the hammer is down, the safety prevents the hammer from being cocked and the trigger from being pulled. On the other hand, if engaged while the hammer is cocked, the safety rotates a block and drops the hammer safely against it while locking the trigger in the rear position. This safety is not as easy to operate as that of a 1911, but it is manageable.

Its magazine release is a frame-mounted button located just behind the trigger and below the slide. Both the magazine release and the safety are set up for right-handed shooters. The grips are plastic with molded checkering—nothing fancy or elaborate, but more than adequate to maintain your grip when firing the relatively mild .380 ACP cartridge.

The PPK/S is sold with two, seven-round magazines. One has a flat base for easier concealment, while the second has an extended finger rest for more comfortable shooting.

My first range session with the PPK/S was unusually fun but perhaps less than scientific. I had some time around hunting camp, so I set up a couple of pie plates at 10 yards and used several brands of .380 ammo. The focus was on verifying the little pistol could function under rapid-fire conditions with repeated kill-zone hits.

There were two malfunctions, specifi­cally failures to feed, and both occurred with the same Federal ammunition that seemed to be a touch longer than rounds from other manufacturers. The magazine and ejection port dimensions are rather tight, which probably explains the difficulties I encountered when trying to chamber rounds with a slightly greater overall length. The rest of the ammo I tested reliably transitioned from magazine to chamber 100 percent of the time. I also found loading the single-stack PPK/S magazines was more difficult than loading 1911 magazines.

Keeping all shots in the 10-inch plates was fairly easy when running at a rapid, but controlled rate of fire. The safety functioned flawlessly and magazines dropped clear of the gun when the release button was pushed.
Slapping loaded magazines into the gun demands a little care. The heel of my shooting hand protrudes well below the pistol and tended to block a new maga­zine from fully locking into place. It seemed easier to reload with the extended magazine than the flat-base model, but I still needed to rotate my shooting hand off the grip to ensure proper seating.
The PPK/S comes with conventional fixed sights: a small front blade and a rear notch. The front blade has a red dot in it while the rear sight has a red mark under the notch. In bright daylight, the sights worked fine, but things changed dramati­cally as light faded. I had trouble seeing either the sights or the red marks, and when I could see red, I couldn’t tell whether I was looking at the rear or front sight. This probably had more to do with my poor eyesight than the pistol.
Regardless, I needed to make a correction to ensure I could handle a defensive scenario in low-light condi­tions with the PPK/S. I shipped the gun to XS Sight Systems for the company’s Big Dot treatment. Three weeks later Marketing Vice President Dave Biggers brought the remodeled Walther to me at Gunsite with the new sight system installed.
With the Big Dot sights, the PPK/S proved to be an excellent defensive firearm for low-light scenarios. The big white front dot is visible (if not perfectly focused) to my naked eye so I can put it on the center mass of a close-range threat and feel confident of making hits. The small tritium bead in the center of the white dot is visible in even lower light.
Did I surrender some precision in longer-range shooting? Yes, although several of us demonstrated it is possible to put hits on a torso-sized target at ranges beyond 25 yards with the XS Big Dot. But keep in mind a defensive scenario suggests engaging targets at very close distances, and it is here where the XS sight excels.
I mentioned the PPK/S is considerably heavier than its modern, polymer counterparts. This means you will have to put a little more thought in how you choose to carry it. Galco’s Pro 436 holster fits the PPK/S beautifully. And with its rough-side-out finish, the holster holds its position inside the pocket perfectly when drawing the Walther or when just moving around.
Walther PPK

Timothy Dalton carried this Walther PPK in "Licence to Kill." It, and many other Hollywood guns, are on display at the National Firearms Museum through April 2011

Whether or not the PPK/S is too heavy for pocket carry is a personal decision. To me, the Walther’s minimum width suggests that an optimum carry tech­nique would be in an inside-the-waistband holster with the grip hidden by an overhanging shirt or other garment. Obviously, when venturing out in evening wear, one should feel obligated to continue the Bond tradition of using an under-the-armpit holster made of luxurious black leather. Since I don’t have a tuxedo, let me know how that works.-

Wilson Combat Spec-Ops 9

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” May 2010

Polymer Twist

                                                                                                                            Photos by Loyd Hill

In a life full of changes, it’s nice to know one company’s innovation shows, year after year.

Enter the Wilson Combat Spec-Ops 9

Some things are pretty safe bets. Taxes must be paid by April 15. birthdays come once a year, and Wilson Combat turns out good pistols. There are some exceptions. Congress might pass a law exempting themselves from having to pay taxes. If you were born on Feb. 29. your birthday only comes around once every four years. On the other hand. I’ve yet to be dis­appointed in a new Wilson pistol, and that includes the company’s latest offering—the Spec-Ops 9.

The Spec-Ops 9 is aimed directly at the concealed-carry market with two predominant characteristics driving the design: light weight and increased capacity. Light weight in today’s semi-automatic pistol market means a polymer frame, while increased capacity dictates double-stack maga­zines. In a sense, those thicker maga­zines do not result in guns conducive to the “concealed” part of concealed carry because the grip frame must be wider than guns using single-stack magazines. Wilson’s approach to this problem is a polymer frame with stainless steel rails molded in place. The result is minimum bulk and weight (29.6 ounces empty. 7 ounces heavier fully loaded) with plenty of structural strength. The Spec-Ops magazine not only holds 16 rounds— satisfying the increased-capacity promise—but loading the magazine to full capacity without a special tool was easier for me than any other double-stack pistol I’ve tried. My thumb was most appreciative.

The slide is carbon steel with a 472-inch barrel, which to me is a good compromise length. You get almost as good a sight radius as with a 5-inch barrel (6.2 inches), while the balance point doesn’t move too far forward as is the tendency with polymer-framed guns equipped with longer barrels. There are serrations at the rear of the slide to facilitate cock­ing, but none near the muzzle. However, about an inch from the muzzle there is a small but noticeable reduction in slide width, creating a distinct shoulder I found to be very helpful in performing chamber checks, both visual and tactile. As always when grasping the slide near the front end. be careful that no part of your hand extends in front of the muzzle.


Wilson's skeletonized hammer not only adds to the modern aesthetics of the gun, its reduced mass also helps ensure a crisp trigger pull.

Sights are of the 3-dot tritium vari­ety, making them highly visible in low-light conditions. On a recent trip where the Spec-Ops 9 became my nightstand gun, the glowing sights made it easy to find in the dark. These are Wilson’s new Tactical Combat Sights and are considerably less bulky than the sights on my Wilson CQB 1911, the primary gun on my California concealed-carry permit. The front sight blade is almost the same width and height as on my CQB, but instead of being fit into a laterally cut dovetail slot, it slides into the front of a longitudinally cut dovetail slot. The rear sight is considerably smaller than on my CQB and is screwed into a recessed cut in the slide rather than slid into a dovetail. One similar fea­ture on both rear sights is the concave rear surfaces to eliminate any possible glare or light reflections. Nice touch. The Spec-Ops hammer is Wilson’s new ultra-light, compact design and resembles a commander-style ham­mer with the top and bottom “pinched” together. The Spec-Ops fea­tures a single, hand-fitted lug barrel.


The Spec-Ops 9 features Wilson's custom-machined, aluminum three-hole trigger, which is adjustable for overtravel.

The polymer frame has Wilson’s distinctive starburst grips, a feature I fell in love with while evaluating an earlier gun. Both frontstraps and backstraps have checkering molded into the polymer. The grip safety is the compact-carry design, which closely resembles the grip safety on my CQB except that the beavertail doesn’t sweep as high on the new 9 mm. Wilson’s extended tactical model thumb safety is slightly smaller and shorter than that on my CQB. but is easily, naturally and reli­ably operated by my thumb in the act of presenting the gun. I would describe it as being as small as it can be. and no bigger than it needs to be—a great combination on a gun intended for concealed carry.
The magazine release is slightly larger in surface area than the one on my CQB. but it doesn’t protrude as far from the frame. My fingers are rela­tively short, so I have to shift my grip to hit the release on single-stack 1911s as well as the Spec-Ops 9. Recog­nizing that as a strictly personal limi­tation, the Spec-Ops magazines released cleanly and dropped from the gun on every touch, whether or not there were rounds in the maga­zine. Likewise, those inserted quickly and cleanly into the gun due largely to the flared mag well molded into the grip frame.
Double Stack Magazine

The distinctive look of the gun comes from the shape of the trigger guard with its sharp corner, as opposed to the more common rounded guard on steel and alloy guns. It seems almost a throwback to some of the designs of yesteryear, but it may simply be an easier shape to mold.  I had no problem shooting the gun since my grip doesn’t involve the front of the trigger guard, but a couple of custom 1911 holsters would not allow the 9 mm full entry due primarily. I think, to the bulkier trig­ger guard. Fortunately, one of my favorite factory holsters is Galco’s Avenger, and it eagerly accepted the Spec-Ops 9 like an old friend.

Molded Rails

To provide maximum concealability with minimal bulk, the Spec-Ops 9 contains molded-in stainless steel rails

Internally, the Spec-Ops 9 has the features we’ve come to expect from Wilson Combat. Its barrel has a pol­ished feed ramp, and the polished extractor is precisely fitted. The gun has an extended ejector, the Wilson custom three-hole trigger, an extra-power firing pin spring and a heavy-duty recoil spring. There are actually five holes in the trigger, but only the three large holes are there to reduce weight. Two tiny holes allow mounting of the trigger bow to the trigger.
There was no pretense of being gentle or babying the gun when I got the Spec-Ops 9 out for a shooting session.  I had a mixture of ammo, including some various-weight cast-bullet handloads that have been in my garage for more than 20 years. I literally jammed a mixture of factory ammo and hand-loads with jacketed and cast bullets indiscriminately into the magazines and started blazing away. Targets were paper plates at 10 yards, and every load with every weight, style and shape of bullet chambered, fired and stayed in those plates, even when I hit the throttle. The gun gob­bled up everything I fed it. When I concentrated. I could feel the vari­ance in recoil between the different loads. Slowing down. I thought I could detect a slight difference in point of impact between the various loads, even at 10 yards, but the disparity was insignificant. The 147-grain jacketed hollow points went exactly where the sights pointed, while the 115-grain jacketed hollow points hit perhaps 1/2 inch lower.
Sight picture with Wilson’s new Tactical Combat sights was crisp and clearly in focus thanks in no small part to the “old guy cheater lens” in my DeCot shooting glasses. The paper plates are another way of cheating by ensuring a clean white background in front of your sights, thus enhancing your sight picture. And since the plates are round, they tend to provide a natural assist in pulling your groups toward the center. Just as the eye nat­urally centers an aperture or peep sight, the eye wants to find the center of the round plate. Having said all that, there was no discreet aiming point on the plates that might help a shooter produce smaller groups.

Wilson's new Tactical Combat sights complement the Spec-Ops 9 in its concealed-carry mission. The svelte profile mini­mizes the chances of the gun getting hung up during the draw, and the longitudinally cut dovetails enhance the practicality and aesthetics.

Even shooting off hand. I felt the gun could live up to the Wilson claim of 1 1/2 inch groups at 25 yards (I actu­ally saw one of the Wilson technicians do this test a few years back). But more importantly for a carry pistol, the Spec-Ops 9 put every single shot into the kill zone at fighting distances, even when I pushed things beyond my reliable speed and regardless of ammo selection.

Given my hand size and short fin­gers. I would prefer a slightly shorter trigger on the Spec-Ops 9. The wider grip frame stretched my hand just enough—more than a standard 1911 — that I had trouble putting the pad of my finger on the trigger. As you know, changing your grip plays havoc with shot-to-shot recovery times, and despite the 9 mm’s low recoil, I found myself readjusting my grip more than once in the course of emptying a 16-round magazine. Admittedly. I’m notoriously sloppy about proper shot-to-shot recovery, and I get even more careless when shooting mild-mannered 9 mms. But. besides emphasizing my need to work on this deficiency, it stresses the importance of having a gun that fits your hand. For you. the Spec-Ops 9 may be a per­fect fit. or as many small-handed shooters (including me) have found, one of Wilson’s narrower frame guns might better suit your needs.
All that said, the new Spec-Ops 9 is a gun I would find quite comfortable to carry exactly as it comes from Wilson, except I would purchase a couple of extra magazines. With two spare magazines and one in the gun. you’re hitting the streets only one round short of a full box of ammo—all of it ready to rock with only two lightning-fast reloads. That’s a lot of defensive fire­power per ounce carried. At a retail price of $1,995, the Spec-Ops 9 is delivered with two magazines and a Wilson carry bag. t’s not cheap, but good life insurance rarely is.

Disassembly of the gun should come naturally to those familar with a 1911. No busing is necessary thanks to a flange on the reversed recoil plug.

Magazine Well

Despite the gun's thin waistline, the magazine well on the Spec-Ops 9 is flared to aid in ultra-fast reloads.Unlike most custom 1911s which contain full-length guid rods, the Spec-Ops 9 utilizes a standard recoil spring guid complete with a Wilson Shok-Buff.

Recoil Spring

Unlike most custom 1911s which contain full-length guid rods, the Spec-Ops 9 utilizes a standard recoil spring guid complete with a Wilson Shok-Buff.

Subtle Improvement

Shooting Illustrated 




Published in “Shooting Illustrated” August 2009

Bill Wilson Carry Pistol


Bill Wilson is no stranger to the shooting world. His CQB pistol graced the cover of Shooting Illustrated’s November 2005 issue and was the subject of a full length feature entitled “The Perfect IDPA Pistol.”

Given IDPA’s emphasis on designing match scenarios that might duplicate potential real life street encounters, it was not surprising that much of my evaluation focused on CCW requirements in addition to match rules. Upon completion of the article, I purchased the CQB from Wilson, and it became the number one gun on my CCW permit. Until now, I did not expect to find an all-steel 1911 that I would prefer for street carry.

 Wilson Combat recently created the Bill Wilson Carry Gun, and as you might expect when one is introducing the next generation of a great handgun, the new carry pistol is not vastly different from the successful CQB. That said the minor changes are truly worthwhile and quickly appreciated. Overall dimensions remain the same; a slide shortened from a standard 1911 to accommodate a 4.1 inch barrel, and a frame reduced in height to 5.25 inches overall (with the 7 shot magazine installed.) Like the CQB, the new model handles both the 7-round magazine (recommended for concealed carry) and slightly extended 8-round magazines that are easily concealed in spare carriers without revealing any unusual lumps or bulges. Internal configuration, cuts and polishing is essentially the same on both guns which accounts for the superb accuracy and reliability of a Wilson 1911.


The first 15 rounds through the Wilson were a mix of bullet styles and weights. Functioning was perfect and, at the group at 15 yards offhand, indicate that whatever ammo is fed to the new gun, it will reliably handle any threats to its owners life and well being.

 Most noticeable and having the greatest impact on my shooting the new gun is the modified Ed Brown bobtail on the shorter grip frame. Normally this rounding of the base is only done on full-size 1911. On the smaller frame, the curvature is not as severe, but the change is dramatic in terms of comfort during firing, and the more magazines fired in a range session, the more you’ll appreciate the increased comfort. Because of the bobtail treatment, the base had to be modified slightly making the gun feel a bit smaller, but shot-to-shot recovery didn’t seem to be compromised. The rounded edge of the back strap is fully checkered just as it is on the CQB, but there is no longer a distinct edge to create abrasions on your palm. A couple of years ago when I first acquired the CQB, I spent some time at Thunder Ranch and ended up applying bandages on the second day and changing guns on the third day. In a recent trip to Gunsite with the Carry Gun I was able to comfortably complete the week long class without having to apply any patches to my palm. For me, the bobtail is much more important on a downsized 1911 because the sharp edge of the backstrap doesn’t extend below the palm swell, but rather is driven into the meaty part of the hand by the recoil of each round. Given that steel is harder than flesh, can you say “Ouch!”

 The other “comfort” revision is the G10 grips. These feature radial lines instead of checkering with the edges of each line slightly rounded. Tactile control is still excellent, but long term abrasion in an extended class is reduced. Call me a sissy if you like, but I like those grips. The single thumb safety lever, set up for right handed shooters, is smaller on the new carry gun. I think it’s a good idea if you can reduce the size of a component on a CCW weapon without compromising performance, and over the 5 day-class, I did not notice any difficulties in operation when presenting the gun from concealed carry. The slide stop pin has also been shortened with the frame countersunk on the right side. This change does two things. One, it will allow the use of Crimson Trace grips with no interference from a protruding pin. Second, you may need to modify your disassembly technique slightly when you clean the gun. There are also serrations on top of the new gun’s slide for the purpose of reducing glare. Firing both the old CQB and the new pistol in the bright Arizona sunlight I did not notice any difference in glare from either gun, but most of our outdoor shooting was during morning hours with the sun behind us. Still, I would rate this as a worth while addition on a carry gun.

 The new gun has several relief cuts that strike me as being well thought out and useful. The front half inch or so of the slide has been reduced in width. It may not save much weight, but depending on how you execute a press check, you might find the new configuration helpful in grasping the slide with the support hand. There’s also a relief cut in the front strap just behind the trigger guard. Perhaps it let’s you get your hand in higher and tighter into the grip, but it’s so small that I really couldn’t notice a functional difference between the two guns either when holding or firing. The final relief cut is in the left grip panel behind the mag release button, and this did have some tangible benefits. I’ve never been able to drop a magazine on a 1911 without shifting my shooting hand grip simply because I don’t have particularly long fingers/thumbs. With Wilson’s new carry gun, I still have to rotate a bit, but it’s noticeably less movement than is required on the CQB, much more comfortable to execute, and much quicker to recover. This is the kind of change whose value will depend on your individual dimensions and operating technique for an evaluation, but even with only a partial improvement, I like the change.

 The last change noticed was the “U” shaped notch in the fixed rear sight. I believe the purpose of this is to make sight acquisition a bit faster in a life-threatening situation. Perhaps it did, but I couldn’t tell. In fact, the entire time on the line I didn’t notice the difference. Sight pictures on both guns are extremely similar simply because you don’t see the bottom of the notch where it’s rounded. Neither could I detect any difference in the amount of light visible on both sides of the front blade, even when shooting slowly. The only thing that struck me as slightly different was that the first 15 shots fired offhand with three different Black Hills loadings at 15 yards seemed to have more of a lateral spread than usual. I know Wilson pistols shoot one-hole groups in the hands of testers at the factory shooting from a rest, and while I didn’t expect exactly the same results, I felt the vertical spread (about 1 ½ inches) was more representative than the horizontal spread of something like 2 ½ inches. As stated, when I got into the class, both worked superbly. For the record, I was wearing corrective lenses and I’m quite new to “U” notch rear sights.

 I can’t fault the Wilson’s reliability. By being abusive, I was able to cause malfunctions, but it was only by breaking all the rules. After firing 2 to 3 boxes of ammo (without first cleaning the gun,) I put the gun away dirty and un-oiled for two weeks before going to Gunsite. Again without cleaning or lubricating, I shot the gun for two days of class. When the gun failed to go into battery, some oil cured the problem until late in the third day when the same failures reoccurred. Additional lubrication continued to cure the problem but for shorter periods of time. As the instructions state, clean the gun and it will (and did) work flawlessly. The only “failure” not attributed to my atrocious behavior was on the third day when the “Wilson” escutcheon in the left grip panel fell off. A call to John May in Arkansas revealed that this was one of those occasions where the least expensive adhesive worked the best and the expensive glue failed. Problem fixed forever.

 I’ve succumbed to the Siren calls again. No, I’m not buying a new carry gun because my existing CQB is tied to my CCW permit by serial number, and changing things like this is California would be a nightmare. But I am having my CQB remodeled to the new Wilson Carry Gun. It’s that good.


Ruger’s New Light, Compact Revolver

Magazine CoverPublished in “Shooting Illustrated” September 2009

Ruger Revolver

Photos by Lloyd Hill

When polymer was introduced in guns, it was a revolutionary change.  Now Ruger’s found it a home on wheelguns — in the all new LCR.

In this fast paced age of self-loading pistols and high capacity magazines, it seems I’m not the only one who believes there is a place for the compact, light-weight revolver. Rather than reviewing all the rationale for this deep-seated opinion that I have presented over the years, I’ll simply state one overwhelmingly simple argument: Ruger just went into production on exactly this type of handgun.

The company calls it the LCR, and the small revolver is an interesting blend of features and materials from the world of handguns that I don’t recall seeing on a snub-nosed “pocket pistol” before. First, the grip frame, which Ruger literature refers to as the fire control system housing, is made of a modern polymer. More accurately it’s a long-fiber, glass-filled polymer that the press release says helps reduce recoil. I suspect the slightly oversized rubber Hogue grips contribute equally to the reduction in felt recoil, but the end result that all of the +P ammo tested was quite comfortable to shoot over the course of several cylinders. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The frame is made of 7000 series aluminum forging, as are parts of aircraft, and has a black, hard coating developed by Ruger. The aluminum provides rigid support for the barrel and cylinder and lighter overall weight for comfort in concealed carry, while the special coating contributes protection from the elements and handling abuse. The cylinder is made of 400 series stainless steel to contain the pressures of 38 Special +P loads, features a target grey finish, and has an unusual configuration. The rear third of the cylinder that houses the locking latch cuts is full diameter while the front two thirds has long, sweeping flutes like the Colt Model 1862 Police black powder pistol. Despite being separated by a century and a half in time, both guns are 5 shot revolvers. Perhaps irrelevant, but really cool!

The trigger

The author found the trigger pull extremely smooth, thanks to Ruger's "friction-reducing cam fire control system."

Want some more high tech, super modern material in your snubbie? The LCR has some titanium components in the cylinder’s front latching system and what Ruger refers to as an “optimized spring tension” design and an “enhanced lockup geometry.” All three of these should contribute to an extended life digesting +P ammo with minimal wear of gun parts. The trigger pull on the little revolver is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen on an unmodified factory snub nose. Ruger credits this to a “friction-reducing cam fire control system that results in a non-sticking, smooth trigger pull” on the DAO trigger. I would simply say the trigger is superb!

I mentioned the Hogue rubber grips that seemed larger than on other short barrel revolvers I’ve tried. Although only long enough to allow gripping by the two middle fingers on the shooting hand, they seem slightly wider and softer than normal thus helping reduce felt recoil generated in the 13.5 ounce revolver. In fact, the grips may be a bit too large for someone with very small hands. No problem. The grip frame of the new Ruger is a narrow “stump” that allows grips of any shape since there is no fixed front or back strap. The rubber (or other material) grips may be any shape you prefer because they are attached to the frame by one screw located in the bottom of the frame’s stump. Another clever design feature, particularly in a small gun like the LCR.

The Ruger’s sights are almost typical for a snub nose revolver in that they consist of a fixed front ramp and square notch rear. The “almost” is because the ramp front

Front Site

The front sight is serrated at its back to reduce glare and can be replaced with aftermarket versions. The U-notch rear sight is cut into the aluminum frame, but to minimize the chances of deformation it's pro­tected by a polymer shell.

 sight is replaceable held in place by a pin. Want to try something else, go for it. There’s no need to try welding something on the aluminum frame surrounding the steel barrel. Also, the rear notch width is cut into the aluminum frame, not the polymer grip frame. The aluminum edges of the rear notch are protected by the polymer frame, so they won’t be subject to deformation by any bumps or drops. Both front and rear blade and notch are wide giving ample visibility and a good sight picture in bright light. In daylight, against a lightly colored target, sight picture was easily acquired and crystal clear. Under dwindling light, or against a dark target, you might consider other options. The large X-S dot sight system is highly visible and quite popular on guns meant for self-defense. Additionally, I believe Ruger is offering guns with the Crimson Trace laser grips, or you can simply contact Laser Grips to order a set of these grips after acquiring your LCR. Suggested retail for standard LCR is $525, whereas the laser grips take the gun’s price to $792.

I made two trips to Gunsite while working with the new Ruger. The LCR I used was the standard model with factory sights. I actually ran the little gun through part of the Close Quarters Pistol class, a new event that deals with the real world possibilities of people who want to do you harm and are willing to do anything to insure you’re unable to shoot them. (More on this class in a later issue.) Besides me, a number of shooters had a chance to try the little revolver using various loads from Hornady’s new 110 grain FTX Critical Defense 38 Special +P ammo up through 158 grain lead bullet handloads. Absolutely no one had the slightest problem with felt recoil. Everyone who had fired revolvers before were impressed with the trigger pull. A couple of shooters who had never fired anything except semi-autos were surprised at the length (but not particularly the weight) of the double action trigger pull. My impromptu test group included one senior Gunsite Range Master who is a retired police officer and has carried a two-inch revolver most of his adult life. Shooting outdoors on the square ranges in daylight, all shooters felt the sights were fine. Head shots at typical self defense ranges out to 10 yards were easily made. Beyond 10 yards, individual shooting skills became a major factor. I followed friend and fellow scribe Rich Grassi as he took the LCR through Gunsite’s Scrambler, a course where one engaged steel targets from Pepper popper size up through The Incredible Hulk, and fromRear Site ranges of 50 to 80 yards. Out of 8 targets engaged, only one escaped serious harm from a cylinder full of ammo, and most were hit on either the first or second shot. This is not something any shooter could do, but then it’s not something just any 2” revolver could do either. In the mano a mano drill which involves whacking two steel round plates, performing a reload, and then knocking down a split popper, Rich did not win based on the clock, but neither did he leave any targets standing, and he had to go back for a second hit on one of the plates before it fell.

I didn’t have any belt holsters for a 2” revolver, but I did have 3 pocket holsters since that is my preferred CCW technique. The leather Mitch Rosen that is form fitted for my Model 442 would not accommodate the Ruger, but the rigid Safariland and collapsible Uncle Mikes both fit. I used the rigid Safariland because being able to re-holster smoothly and efficiently (meaning with one hand and without looking) is a part of the Gunsite methodology. Even starting with my shooting hand in the pocket, I wasn’t making desired times for putting rounds on target. But I did go through the drills a few times and my targets were pretty good even if my speed wasn’t. Finally the instructors allowed me to start the drills with gun in hand in the low guard position under the supposition that I had been alert enough to read the scenario and get prepared. I got a lot faster after that and, except for the reloads, I was no longer the “cog in the wheel” that held up the class.

Reloads are worth a comment since they are perhaps the biggest weakness in using a revolver for self defense. While it would be nice to drape a pair of Pancho Villa style cartridge bandoliers over your shoulders, consider that this might suggest to others that you are carrying a firearm, thus defeating the “concealed” portion of your CCW agreement. On the other hand, finding loose cartridges in your pockets and loading them one at a time makes for a long period of vulnerability in a gunfight. I tried two “speed” techniques at Gunsite both of which worked pretty well. The HKS speedloaders have been around for quite a while including models for 5-shot revolvers. These lock 5 rounds in a circle, and when all five rounds are partially inserted into the cylinder, a quick rotation on the knob allows all 5 to drop fully into their respective chambers. You’ll gain speed on the actual reload with a little practice, and finding the speedloader in your pocket is much faster and easier than finding 5 individual rounds. I also tried the Tuff QuickStrips, a rubber strip that holds 6 cartridges in line. When you’ve dumped the empties from your 38, insert 1 or 2 cartridges at a time partially into the cylinder and then peel the strip away from the rims allowing both rounds to drop into their respective chambers. Repeat until all chambers are loaded. This isn’t as fast a reload as the HKS, but the flat strips hold all the cartridges needed for a reload, carry flatter in your pockets than the round HKS, and can be found as fast as the HKS speedloader. The speed strips also allow you to “top off” the gun by reloading a single round or two as opposed to running the gun dry to replace all 5 rounds. Having an extra round in the strip could prove useful and takes up no real additional space in your pocket. Both QuickStrips and HKS speedloaders are good systems. Selection of one over the other may be based more upon how bulky your clothing is rather than a slight increase in reloading speed.

At first glance the LCR may appear a bit odd due to things like the joining line between the polymer grip housing and the aluminum frame, and the different cylinder shape and finish. Not to worry. I’m almost certain you’ll warm to the gun’s appearance over time. But to speed up the love process, take the LCR out for a shooting session. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with the Ruger concept of rugged guns at good guy prices, I’m certain romance will blossom quickly.

Portable .44 Magnums


Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007

Buffalo Bore

Buffalo Bore's 340-grain +P+ . 44 Magnum loads have an overall cartridge length of 1.752 inches, but they pose no problem for the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan's cylinder. The Hogue Tamer Monogrip completely surrounds the grip frame in soft rubber, which makes shooting even these powerhouse loads in the 2 1/2-inch snubbie bearable.

In the shooting world, “magnum” means a cartridge or firearm larger than nor­mal in size, performance or both. When Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Magnum in the mid-’50s, the company housed the cartridge in its existing N-frame revolver. While the round’s performance exceeded that of existing handgun cartridges, the gun’s size was neither unmanageable nor intimidating—until you fired it for the first time. Ruger’s original .44 Magnum was a bulked-up Flattop single-action revolver. The frame size was slightly larger than we were accustomed to, but the grip remained rather small. This seemed like a good idea—again until you touched off your first full-power round.

Over the years, Smith & Wesson made some internal and external changes in its .44 Magnum handguns but has continued to chamber the cartridge in the double-action N-frame revolver. Shortly after its introduction, Ruger dropped the Flattop .44 Magnum (until its reintroduction as a commemorative edition in 2005) and began producing some larger-framed .44 Magnum revolvers, in both single- and double-action versions. We were offered two single actions, the Super Blackhawk and the Bis-ley, and two double actions, the Redhawk and Super Redhawk.
The frame sizes on these Rugers were larger than on the original Flattop, and barrel lengths were either longer or compa­rable to earlier guns. The idea was to make the new revolvers more durable to handle a continuous diet of full-house magnum loads, and to make them more controllable and comfortable when fired by less-experi­enced handgunners. An additional benefit was the increased cylinder length allowed the use of heavier, longer bullets for large, dangerous game.
There’s been a slight reversal of the trend lately. Downsized options are now available for those who want a big-bore handgun for self-defense rather than hunting. Ruger is offering both its Redhawk and Super Red­hawk with shorter barrels that make them easier to carry. This is not an attempt to produce a .44 Magnum that would compete with handguns designed for concealed carry, although both guns, particularly the stubby Super Redhawk Alaskan, can be easily covered by a jacket should the user venture from wilderness to civilization. And the .44 Magnum is certainly an ade­quate, if slightly overpowered, cartridge for self-defense. Ruger’s real target audi­ence is the backpacker or woods wanderer who might venture into country inhabited by predators larger and tougher than man, and who understand that dialing 911 is a useless gesture.
Some similarities between the Redhawk and Super Redhawk are apparent. Their cylinders are the same, but the Super Redhawk’s frame extends 1 3/4 inches far­ther forward than the Redhawk’s. The breech end of the Super Redhawk’s barrel has a couple extra inches of frame wrapped around it, which makes it look much beef­ier when viewed from the business end. Both guns have adjustable rear sights with a white outline surrounding the notch. Front sights are black, ramped blades, but the Super Redhawk’s is all black, while the Redhawk’s has a red insert. The Redhawk’s front blade is pinned through the integral barrel rib, but the Super Redhawk’s blade is silver-soldered into a slot in the top of the frame. Normally the Redhawk is equipped with either a 5 1/2 or 7 1/2 inch barrel, and the Super Redhawk features a 7 1/2 or 9-inch barrel. The new Redhawk has a 4-inch barrel, while the Super Redhawk’s barrel has been cut to 27; inches, or flush with the front edge of the extended frame. I’ve always thought the standard Super Red­hawk looked ugly with its barrel sticking out of the stretched frame, but the snub-nose Alaskan is built like a small Abrams tank and is almost as impressive.
Comparison of Barrels

The muzzle of the Alaskan (left) is flush with the front of the distinctive, extended frame that characterizes the Super Redhawk. Despite the short barrel, alt that metal in the frame gives the little thumper a weight of 41 ounces.

Grips are considerably different on the two guns, mainly because their grip frames are not the same. The Redhawk grip frame looks like we expect a grip frame to look—the frontstrap and backstrap deter­mine the final size and shape of the han­dle. In contrast, the Super Redhawk has an undersized “stub” handle that allows the use of whatever size and shape grip you like. Hogue finger-groove grips are on both guns, but the grips on the Alaskan surround the back of the grip frame and provide a cushioning effect between gun and hand when fired. There is also a softer piece of blue rubber inside the top of the grip that cushions the web of the shoot­ing hand from the classic “thump of the hump” administered by the recoil of heavy loads in a double-action revolver. The Red­hawk’s grips expose the steel backstrap but generously fill the space between frontstrap and trigger guard. They also extend below the grip frame providing a comfortable resting place for the last fin­ger of the shooting hand. I didn’t find the felt recoil of either gun objectionable, but the Super Redhawk was more comfortable when hot loads with bullets weighing 300 grains or more were fired. If you have very large hands, you might prefer the larger grips of the Redhawk.
Shooting the compact .44 Magnums from Ruger was fun, but I need to be clear about limitations. For me, a 4-inch barrel is about the minimum length I can hunt with using an iron-sighted belt gun, and I prefer 5 or even 6 inches. Besides the issue of sight radius, my eyes just aren’t what they used to be. Given that, I would be comfort­able hunting with the 4-inch Redhawk at ranges up to about 50 yards, but only if I’m wearing some sort of shooting glasses with corrective lenses. It’s much easier for me to hunt with a scoped pistol, and in fact that’s now mandatory for me during the low-light conditions of early morning or late afternoon.
Ruger .44 Magnum

The packing ability of a 4-inch barrel meets the versatility of the .44 Magnum in Ruger's latest addition to the Redhawk family. With a beefy frame and an elongated cylinder, the revolver can handle a variety of ammunition for hunting or defending against large and dangerous game, including Buffalo Bore's 340-grain cast +P+ stomper and Cor-Bon's 225-grain DPX load.

However, I became infatuated with the short-barreled Alaskan. I liked almost everything about it, including its smaller grips, minimal felt recoil, handy length and remarkably smooth double-action trigger. And while I would rate it as an excellent defensive big-bore revolver, I wouldn’t take it hunting as my primary handgun. Firing at a 40-yard target, I could not keep all my shots in the black. I could pretty well keep them on the paper, within a 9-inch circle, shooting offhand, but I felt I was just barely on the ragged edge of acceptable marksmanship. Restricting my effective hunting range to less than 40 yards isn’t something I would want to do. That said, the Alaskan would be my first choice for a carry gun if I were fishing or just hiking through bear country, like maybe Alaska. The .44 Magnum with heavier bullets is a major defensive load against big critters, and I felt absolutely confident in my abil­ity to use the little Super Redhawk at close range with no concern for the recoil gener­ated by the more powerful loads. Carried on the belt in a lightweight nylon holster, this stainless steel powerhouse would be the perfect companion for an extended foray in fair weather or foul.
I would, however, make one modifica­tion to the Alaskan. With .44-caliber bul­lets ranging from 240 to 300-plus grains, I used up much of the rear sight’s eleva­tion adjustment capability at the 40-yard range. When the gun was on, the rear sight assembly rode quite high in its notch in the topstrap. There was no danger of the elevation adjustment screw popping out of the sight assembly since there were at least another three revolutions avail­able before the threads disengaged. When the screw was that far out, though, the tension applied to the assembly by the two coil springs was not consistent, and the sight moved so easily that it did not seem like precise adjustments were either achievable or maintainable. It’s not that big a deal considering the ranges at which the gun would most likely be used, plus a fix is incredibly simple. I would have a competent smithy file a little off the top of the front blade so the rear sight doesn’t have to be dramatically elevated to prop­erly sight-in the gun.
Fact is, both revolvers would make excellent trail guns. The Redhawk’s extra 1 1/2 inches of barrel gave me some addi­tional range, while the Alaskan’s shorter barrel and smaller grips made it more com­fortable and portable. With both Rugers chambered in .44 Magnum, the odds are you can find ammo almost anywhere. You may still have to let Brother Bruin have your salmon, but with either of these guns on your hip, your retreat will be much more orderly and confident.